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Students Run Food Bank out of Their Conservatory

Food4Students have found a way to use a room that is usually too hot or too cold to be functional – by turning it into a larder for a student-run food bank. Informality is intentional as Food4Students (F4S) provides a more relaxed and anonymous service than other food banks, where a formal application or a welfare referral may be necessary.

In an interview with The Saint, Ellie Bouton, fourth-year student and convenor of the food bank, reveals that she hopes more students become aware of the service and that the current, fortnightly ‘pick-up’ sessions may occur as often as once a week.

The Saint last wrote on a food bank drive organised by CASH St Andrews in October 2022. Since then, F4S – which was inspired by that event – has become a fully-fledged society independent of CASH. At the time, this was a one-off donation drive for Storehouse St Andrews, a food bank serving the North East Fife community which was set up in 2006 by Kingdom Vineyard Church. This got the students involved in the event thinking more about the impact of the cost of living crisis on students in St Andrews.

Ellie told The Saint, “There wasn’t really any resources for food insecurity beside Storehouse St Andrews. [Storehouse] is great but they require a referral and to get this you must go through a welfare service.”

This may act as a barrier to access for some students and deter those who may benefit from using a foodbank, particularly if the process seems too formal. In contrast, students wishing to access F4S can simply click the Linktree featured on their Instagram (@food4studentsta) to sign up.

The foodbank currently runs out of one students’ conservatory, where students can enter discreetly during collection sessions. Typical supplies include snacks like biscuits and chocolate, as well as instant meals, toiletries, and cooking oil.

We asked Ellie whether she thought the University of St Andrews was doing enough to help students during the cost-of-living crisis. Students across the country have been hit hard with soaring rental costs and bills. The average student's Maintenance Loan falls short of covering their living costs by £439 every month, according to Save the Student.

Ellie acknowledged that there is a designated ‘cost-of-living taskforce’ at the University, who are passionate about what they do. However, she is aware that other universities responded much sooner, at the start of last semester.

Measures to ease the burden of the increased cost of living introduced by the University include offering Stagecoach bus tickets at a 75% reduction of the normal price and the beloved 50% discount on hot and cold meal deals in all University building cafes.

At the same time, Ellie has a multitude of ideas to help students during this time. She believes that more ‘heat and eat’ spaces should be made available to students who may want to bring in food from home and that a daily breakfast club in a communal space such as the Union could also be beneficial for students facing food insecurity. There seems to be an absence of representatives of students in the decision making of the University’s measures, Ellie tells me.

Ellie also stressed that financial hardship impacts mental health. This relationship is often underrepresented in measures to support students at Universities across the country. She told The Saint, “Financial anxiety is really hard to deal with, especially if you feel like there’s no way you can get out of that situation. I think a really great initiative that the university could do is free gym passes or free fitness classes.”

Whilst the uptake of the F4S foodbank has been small – between 10 to 15 people attend sessions – Ellie says it’s a really valuable resource for those that are accessing it.

Ellie said, “For anyone thinking about accessing it – please do. We have so much stock.”

The future of F4S involves affiliating with the Student Union. This would provide the space and funding that could allow the initiative to expand and provide a greater reach. A space which does not need to be manned, such as a shed or a community fridge, would be an ideal outcome.

Ellie told The Saint that it was increasingly important to talk about hardship and food insecurity, “We don’t talk about it enough. Let your friends know.”

Today, a F4S session is taking place. The next session will be sometime in the first week of March.

Photo: Unsplash

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